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Recognising and Responding to Safety Hazards When Driving Your HGV

24 May 2022

There are a variety of safety hazards that HGV drivers face, ranging from aquaplaning to driving through a tunnel. In fact, in 2018, the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) reported that HGVs are much more likely to be involved in fatal road traffic accidents in comparison to other vehicles. Therefore, being well-prepared for hazards will help HGV drivers to spot them early and take appropriate action in ample time to keep, not only themselves, but other road users safe. This is particularly important for such drivers, as heavy goods vehicles take longer to slow down and are less manoeuvrable than smaller vehicles.

In this article, we’ll discuss how HGV drivers can recognise and respond to safety hazards, to ensure the safety of all.

  1. Practice Defensive Driving

Defensive driving is a method that encourages HGV drivers to always be on the lookout for potential hazards and changes in driving or road conditions. Truckers can lower the risk of accidents and injuries by anticipating potentially dangerous situations and making safe and well-informed decisions whilst behind the wheel. By applying defensive driving practices, it’s less likely commercial drivers will be involved in accidents. In turn, this equates to less worry regarding costly repairs, claim pay-outs, and increases in insurance premiums.

Defensive driving measures that HGV drivers can utilise include:

  • Keeping an eye out for HGV blind spots

With HGV drivers being in such large trucks, it can be tricky to see other cars behind or even next to their vehicle. A blind spot is defined as any space around a vehicle that cannot be directly seen by a driver. According to Loughborough Design School, blind spots can be a major contributing factor in fatal accidents with trucks. In 2015, TRL estimated up to 550 blind spot deaths could be prevented if better direct vision was available. Due to the fact that rear-view and side mirrors are not always effective when checking for HGV blind spots, commercial drivers must ensure they actively look over their shoulders and out their windows, when completing certain actions like changing lanes. Additionally, plenty of room should be left around HGV vehicles when merging.

  • Follow the three-second rule

When it comes to preventing forward and rear collisions, HGV drivers should practice the three-second rule. This is where truck drivers should allow three full seconds to pass between the time the vehicle in front of them reaches a certain area on the road and the time it takes them to reach the same area. If weather conditions are poor, for instance heavy rain or wind, truckers should increase the follow time to five seconds. If roads are icy, the follow time should be increased even further to 10 seconds.

  • Be prepared for emergencies

When on the road, particularly when driving long distances, conditions can change within seconds. Therefore, HGV drivers must be prepared for a range of possible emergency situations, such as poor driving conditions or breakdowns. Those who stock their cabs with water, snacks, a first aid kit, a change of clothes, and blankets can comfortably and safely ride out unforeseen situations that may require them to get off the road or wait long periods of time for vehicle repairs.

For more information on the must-have items for the road, we have put together a guide, so you can stock your cab in preparation for any unexpected occurrence whilst on the road.

  • Remain cool, calm, and collected

Road rage is a major danger when it comes to safe driving. When HGV drivers are cut off, beeped at, or otherwise hassled by other road users, it can incite road rage. Instead, defuse the situation by increasing the distance between yourself and irate drivers.

  • When in doubt, slow down

Always respond by slowing down when changes occur on the road, including poor weather conditions or poor visibility. Slowing down gives HGV drivers extra time to respond to sudden changes, such as an animal running onto the road or slippery roads when it begins to rain. By slowing down, accidents can be avoided altogether, or at the very least, lessen the impact and severity if one was to take place.

  1. Preventative Maintenance Schedules

The safety of drivers begins with the safety of their vehicles. HGVs that are not up to date with their routine maintenance – such as oil and brake pad changes – are more prone to break down. Therefore, fleet managers must ensure preventative maintenance schedules are in place. Telematics devices can offer real-time visibility into odometer and engine data, including fault codes. By using such data, clearer preventative maintenance schedules can be created, that are better tailored to the HGV in question. With regular maintenance and proactive repairs, fleet managers can ensure vehicles remain in good condition, meaning breakdowns are less likely.

  1. Complete Pre-trip and Post-trip Checks

As well as increasing driver safety through maintenance, thorough vehicle inspections should also accompany this, to ensure all HGVs are safe before driving. However, not just any inspection will suffice. Fleet managers can ensure their drivers’ safety by utilising tools that guarantee all checks are thorough and accurately documented. For instance, there are apps available that allow commercial drivers to submit electronic DVIRs (Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports). Such apps allow fleet managers and fleet maintenance teams to communicate with drivers directly from their phone. Some functions include guiding HGV drivers through every component of the inspection as well as allowing them to upload photos of any vehicle problems. This ensures that every inspection is comprehensive. And if a hazardous DVIR is submitted, management teams can be alerted in real time, so they can arrange repairs to ensure safety of truck drivers.

  1. Read the Road Ahead

HGV drivers should always look well ahead of where they’re driving, in order to anticipate potential hazards. For instance, if lots of shops are spotted ahead, truckers must be prepared for vehicles to stop or pull out. Furthermore, it’s also likely that pedestrians may want to cross the road too.

Different locations pose different hazards. For instance, on rural roads you may find slow-moving tractors or mud on the road, whereas in cities, there are many different road users close together, so you need to be wary of giving others sufficient space.

  1. Driving Through a Tunnel

Most tunnels have radio transmitters – allowing you to tune in and find out if any incidents, congestion or roadworks are occurring in the tunnel.

Ensure a four-second gap is left between your HGV and the vehicle in front when driving through a tunnel. If you must stop due to congestion, leave a gap of at least five metres between you and the vehicle in front.

There are times and conditions where other road users may be vulnerable, and you must keep a look out for these individuals, giving them extra space where necessary. These include:

  • Motorcyclists and cyclists
  • Vehicles towing caravans and high-sided vehicles in windy conditions
  • Learner drivers and newly qualified drivers
  • Drivers overtaking you
  • Those who are disabled and use powered vehicles
  • Senior drivers
  1. Aquaplaning

When a build-up of water occurs between a vehicle’s tyres and the road surface, the tyres may lose contact with the road, causing HGVs to slide on a thin film of water – this is called aquaplaning. It can be a particularly risky when driving at speed in very wet weather conditions. If you’re wondering how to avoid aquaplaning, ensure you drive at slower speeds and observe whether water is gathering on the road surface. In a situation where your vehicle does begin to aquaplane, slow down by easing off the accelerator. Do not attempt to brake or change direction until you regain your grip.

  1. Skidding

Skidding can be caused by several factors. However, it’s more likely to occur on road surfaces, such as:

  • Loose gravel
  • Oil or diesel
  • Rain, ice or snow
  • Mud or leaves

If you’re driving your HGV in these conditions, ensure you do the following:

  • Do not accelerate abruptly or harshly
  • Do not brake harshly
  • Do not brake whilst cornering
  • Keep an eye out for slippery road surfaces and reduce speed if road is slippery
  • Use engine braking as well as the brakes to slow HGV down
  • Keep HGV in good condition as brakes in poor condition can pull unevenly, causing skidding

If your vehicle starts to skid, take the following precautions:

  • Release the brake pedal as braking can worsen skidding
  • Turn the steering wheel in the same direction as the skid and ease off the accelerator to bring the wheels back into line

As discussed above, it’s important to be aware of the safety hazards that can occur whilst on the road for HGVs. By having awareness of these and using our measures to recognise and respond to such hazards, commercial drivers can reduce the chances of damaging their vehicle, injuring themselves, and other road users. Make smart decisions in ample time by recognising hazards early on.

If you’d like to talk to us about how we can assist your safety as an HGV driver, call us on 0808 178 9977 or chat to one of our agents right now.